Since taking over the property in 1983 the Dillon family undertook a major effort to upgrade the estate. They initially focused on the vineyards. Substantial investments were made to replant vines on some of the finest gravel soil in Bordeaux.
Over the years, each and every plot of La Mission Haut-Brion has been replanted with the grape varietal best suited to it. These vines are now an average of 30 years old. The high vine density (10,000 vines per hectare) is conducive to intense wines whose hallmark is their unique charm. Starting with the 1991 vintage, a second red wine was created at La Mission: La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion.
The vines that originally produced the second wine from 1991 have since aged, and now produce a wine of exceptional quality. However, another factor is also of great importance. In 2006, the vineyard of Château La Tour Haut-Brion, another estate belonging to Domaine Clarence Dillon, was integrated into that of La Mission Haut-Brion. Starting with this same vintage, all the grapes from La Tour Haut-Brion’s vineyard, a Classified Growth of Graves in 1953, went into La Chapelle de La Mission Haut-Brion, making the second wine of La Mission a truly fine wine.
THE PESSAC-LEOGNAN TERROIR
Wines from the Pessac-Léognan have a unique, distinct fired earth, tobacco, spice note that are not found elsewhere on the Left Bank giving the wines an added aromatic complexity. Haut-Brion stands for hillock and the vineyards of both Haut-Brion and Mission Haut-Brion are planted on these raised hillocks with distinct gunzian gravel soils giving the wines good drainage and exposition, as well as retaining the typicity of the aromatic complexity consistent with the Pessac-Léognan region.
The other important elements to Château La Mission Haut-Brion is that they are the first winery to harvest in Bordeaux, picking their Merlot before anyone else in Bordeaux due to the specific climate and exposition at the property. They typically start to pick the Merlot at the end of August / beginning of September, benefiting from the warmer summer months enabling veraison earlier and avoiding the risk of wetter weather in the latter part of September. Despite the vineyards neighbouring Château Haut-Brion, there are distinct differences between the styles of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion. First the vine density and the positioning of the vines in La Mission Haut-Brion are very different with the vines planted at a density of 10,000 vines per hectare compared to Haut-Brion at 8,000.
The vines at La Mission Haut-Brion are positioned from North to South and therefore the sun exposure is felt much more, heightening the sun’s effect on the wine. La Mission Haut-Brion is therefore more concentrated, has more intensity of flavour and typically riper fruit character compared with Haut-Brion. Haut-Brion is more gentle with a more refined style providing potentially greater elegance, and more earthy, savoury terroir character rather than fruit intensity. Tasting the two together they are so different and are wonderful contrasts in style despite them being neighbouring vineyards made by the same team.
La Mission Haut-Brion is also half the size of Haut-Brion in terms of vineyards and production levels. Haut-Brion has 50 hectares under vine and typically produces 100,000 bottles each year. La Mission Haut-Brion has just 25 hectares under vine and produces 50,000 bottles each year. The production of both is a lot smaller compared to the other First Growths: Châteaux Margaux, Lafite, Latour and Mouton Rothschild.